By Mike Odiegwu, Port Harcourt
Tension has heightened in Rivers State following a disagreement between the organised labour and the state government over industrial actions.
The government at the weekend accused the state chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) of conniving with its national leadership to force industrial action on workers in the state.
The Rivers State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, who spoke in Port Harcourt, said NLC abandoned a subsisting court case reserved for judgment on September 29, 2020 to embark on its threatened strike.
Adangor explained that on the 16th March, 2020, the Organised Labour issued seven days notice for an indefinite strike but failed as scheduled.
He said a suit was instituted by the Rivers State Government at the Port Harcourt Division of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria seeking interpretation to the enabling laws relating to the strike.
According to him, the originating summons was heard and instead of NLC to await the judgment that was reserved for September 29, 2020, they were calling for another strike.
He said: “The Rivers State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria failed or neglected to fulfill the condition precedent for the declaration of the strike action as prescribed in Section 4,6 and 18(1)(a) of the Trade Dispute Act, Cap T8, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“Surprisingly, while the suit No. NICN/PH/41/2020 is still pending and the Interim Order of Injunction issued therein still subsisting, the defendants acting in collusion and concert with the national leadership of the Organised Labour (NLC and TUC) issued another threat of fresh strike in Rivers State based on the same reasons.”
He noted that in the face of overt and unmitigated illegality by labour, the Rivers State Government approached the Court because it believed in the rule of law.
He explained that the government obtained an Interim Injunction from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria sitting in Lagos to stop the labour strike while also seeking interpretation of provisions of the Trade Dispute Act and Trade Union Act.
Adangor said with the subsisting matter in court and the order of Interim Injunction, the organised labour in Rivers State would be committing contempt of court if it embarked on industrial action.
He said: “The trial court after hearing extensive legal argument from the Attorney General of Rivers State granted an order of Interim Injunction restraining all the Defendants on record.
” Whether by themselves or through their servants, agents, privies, officers or otherwise howsoever called from embarking on a strike action in Rivers State on 5th, 6th, or 7th September 2020 or any other date whether earlier or later, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for Interlocutory Injunction.”
Adangor said all the defendants had been duly served with the order of interim injunction and they could claim otherwise.
He stated that the affidavits of service had been filed in the registry of the court after substituted means of service was used.
“Every disobedience of an order of court constitutes contempt of court. The organised labour is therefore warned against any act of overt or subtle disobedience of the substituting order,” he said.
But the state’s Chairperson, NLC, Beatrice Itubo, described the purported injunction as black market, insisting that it would not stop labour from engaging in its activities, including the protest it scheduled for September 8.
Itubo dismissed the injunction saying it never existed explaining that the union in the state and the national level had not been served with such restraint.
She said the government was simply trying to cow the workers and stop them from coming out in their numbers to protest against it.
Itubo appealed to workers to come out en masse adding that already national officials of the NLC had started arriving for the protest.
She said: “There is no injunction anywhere. Nobody has served us injunction. They don’t serve injunction through the social media. They claimed they published it in the newspaper; is it not somebody who has money that will buy newspaper? And the leadership has not told us that they served them any injunction and we here in Rivers State have not received it.
“We are mobilising. Come September 8, people should come out in their numbers. This is a diversionary tactics. He wants to use it to dissuade workers and people will be confused and then we won’t get the number.
“We are asking people to come out in their number come that day. Is it not court that will convict us? Is he the court? He went to the backyard and got black market injunction. Is there any vacation judge? He went to Lagos and carried an injunction to Rivers State.”